This month's blog article was featured in the December 2023 issue of our digital newsletter, Aspire Wire. To receive future Aspire Wire emails, subscribe here.

By Jenn O'Rourke, MS
Associate Program Manager, Child Services

Building Emotional Regulation skills can be a long-winding road. It involves the ability to identify and understand one’s emotions, as well as the capacity to modulate their intensity and duration. While there is much instruction that can happen in a group setting, the reality is that we all experience emotions differently in our brains and bodies and receiving individualized coaching and feedback around those emotions can be critical to achieve independently.

Below are examples of skills taught in a group compared to individualized feedback provided by staff during a group (note: these interventions are offered verbally or visually.)

Skill 1. Recognizing facial expressions in others
  • Identifying specific facial features to observe (eyebrows, corners of the mouth, chin, etc.)
Feedback: In-the-moment processing: 
  • “I notice that the corners of his mouth are turned upward. He’s smiling! I wonder how he’s feeling…”
  • “I’m showing you how I’m feeling with my face. Look at my eyes for a clue.”

Skill 2. Predicting emotions based on a scenario 
  • Perspective-taking and emotional identification through hypothetical or role play scenarios.
Feedback: Preview and Review: 
  • If you do _________, how do you predict _________ will feel? 
  • When you did _______, he felt _____________.

Skill 3. Recognizing emotions within yourself
  • Calling attention to your physiological experience of a situation to then pair those sensations with an emotion.
Feedback: Individualized processing: 
  • “I notice that you just started to tap your foot. Let’s check-in with your body. What thoughts or feelings are you having that might make you tap your foot?” 
  • “Hm. It seems like you get really silly before we start an activity that’s new to you. I wonder why.”

Skill 4. Understanding the relationship between a trigger and the emotional outcome
  • For both positive and negative emotions, appreciating that there is an often-linear relationship between the presence of an event and the feelings is creates in you or another person.
Feedback: Looking for patterns, providing individualized feedback:
  • “Last time when we _______________, you looked excited because you were jumping around the room! Is it because you really like ____________?”
  • “I’m wondering how you will feel when we have to end this game before it’s finished. Do you have any predictions?”
  • “Hm, what kinds of thoughts do you think they had when you did that? Let’s try to make a prediction together.”
  • “How will they feel if you do that?”

Strategies for supporting Emotional Awareness at home

  • Books or Movies! When reading a book with your child or watching a movie, pause to observe illustrations, scenes, or re-read parts describing a person’s face or body language. Ask your child to identify features that might lead you to understand how that person is feeling.
  • Modeling your own inner dialogue: When you are experiencing an emotion, share it out loud with your child. This approach lets the child just how frequently we call attention to our emotions. As time goes on, share strategies you use (like positive self-talk or external supports like music), predictions you make, and personal patterns you’ve observed. It can also be empowering to ask your child for advice. Some examples:
    • “This traffic is starting to make me feel frustrated! I’m going to put on some music to help.”
    • “I was really disappointed at work today because I didn’t get to share my ideas in the meeting.”
    • “I had a disagreement with a friend today. Can I ask your advice on how to handle it?”
  • Call attention to facial expressions and body language in real time: To help your child increase independence in observing facial expressions and body language, cue your child to recognize certain features in you, in others, in TV characters, in books or magazines, etc. Some examples:
    • “Whoa, I’m confused about what’s happening in this show. How is this person feeling right now?” (Pause the TV and use your finger to point out the facial features you observe that indicate an emotion.)
    • “Hey! Check out that face on that magazine! “I wonder what they’re thinking about?”
    • “I’m giving you a clue about how I’m feeling with my face. What message am I sending?”